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Peter Novick: Original English text of Novick's review of Finkelstein's book


[Note de l'AAARGH: Finkelstein a un site web où l'on trouve le dossier de son livre:]



Last summer, after the initial publication of Norman Finkelstein's THE HOLOCAUST INDUSTRY in English, there was said to be something called a "Finkelstein debate" in Germany. Now that the book has appeared in German translation, we will perhaps see this renewed. But it is hard to know what there is in THE HOLOCAUST INDUSTRY, then or now, that is "debatable."

Finkelstein's assertion that in negotiations with Swiss banks and German industrial corporations inflated numbers were often tossed around by claimants is hardly "debatable." It is simply a FACT that this was the case--as is the fact that, from the other side, deflated numbers were presented. Similarly, it is an undebatable fact that heavy-handed pressure tactics were sometimes employed on behalf of the claimants--a response to intransigence and delaying tactics on the part of the banks and corporations. One could certainly wish that the negotiations had been conducted differently; wish, especially, that all these matters had been disposed of decades ago. But they weren't: another undebatable fact. In any case, all of this is widely known, and widely-deplored: what was there, what is there, to debate?

As concerns particular assertions made by Finkelstein concerning reparations and restitution, and on other matters as well, the appropriate response is not (exhilarating) "debate" but (tedious) examination of his footnotes. Such an examination reveals that many of those assertions are pure invention.

Among his more startling claims is that the treasury of the World Jewish Congress has "amassed no less than 'roughly $7 billion' in compensation monies." Finkelstein's source for this startling revelation is an article in FAZ which reported the very unstartling fact that the WJC was holding discussions about how such monies might be distributed IF AND WHEN THEY WERE RECEIVED. This is not just carelessness on Finkelstein's part, since he KNEW when he wrote the book that the WJC had not received ANY such funds: deliberate deception. (Examples could be multiplied. No facts alleged by Finkelstein should be assumed to be really facts, no quotation in his book should be assumed to be accurate, without taking the time to carefully compare his claims with the sources he cites.)

Or is the issue in the "Finkelstein Debate" his overall thesis, of which the discussion of reparations and restitution is merely an illustration? That larger thesis is clearly stated in his book and is easily summarized. "American Jewish elites," Finkelstein argues, have cynically constructed a "Holocaust Industry" to serve their selfish interests. To anyone familiar with the author's lifelong crusade against Israel, it will come as no surprise that first among these interests is to "justify criminal policies of the Israeli state" But to credit "American Jewish elites" with SINCERITY in their concern for Israel would, in his view, be a mistake. In reality, he says, these elites are merely sycophantic tools of American imperialism. They came to support Israel only when it became a compliant tool of US policy-makers; they
>would abandon immediately if it ceased to be an American "strategic asset."

"The Holocaust Industry," Finkelstein tells us, also serves domestic American purposes. Keeping alive the memory of the Holocaust immunizes American Jews from "justified criticism" for their shift rightward in recent years. But here too, we are told, one should not credit "American Jewish elites" with SINCERE concern for the well being
>or reputation of American Jewry: "If US ruling circles decided to
scapegoat Jews, we should not be surprised if American Jewish leaders acted exactly as their predecessors did during the Nazi holocaust. . . . 'Jews would lead Jews to death.'"

The overall argument of Finkelstein's book is that "American Jewish elites" conspire only in their private interest: to line their own pockets and to facilitate their "entry into the inner sanctums of American power." For these elites, he tells us, "the Holocaust performed the same function as Israel: another invaluable chip in a high-stakes power game." For Finkelstein, it is only by acknowledging this long-standing conspiracy of "Jewish elites" that one can REALLY understand what was involved in reparations and restitution negotiations.

I had not thought that (apart from the disreputable fringe) there were Germans who would take seriously this twenty-first century updating of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." I was mistaken: last summer the reviewer for the FAZ compared the book's author to Hannah Arendt; said that reading the book was "like opening a window for a sudden gust of fresh air."

Understandably dismayed by this sort of response to Finkelstein's book, there were those in Germany who said that it was "impermissible" for Germans to discuss the questions which the book raised. As an outsider, I hesitate to express an opinion on how Germans conduct their public discourse, but I must say that I am opposed to their ruling any subject "impermissible" or "out of bounds." And this applies PARTICULARLY to subjects having to do with the memory of the Holocaust.

Germany's relationship to the Holocaust and its memory is not "given"--set in stone--but, must, like the relationship between any collectivity and its memories, be the subject of continued rethinking and renegotiation. Among American Jews, the rethinking and renegotiation of how we handle the memory of the Holocaust has been underway for some time, and it has been the occasion of lively debate. Though obviously the two cases are very dissimilar, many of the same issues arise. As the years pass, what should change and what should stay the same in our relationship to the memory? How does one steer a path between forgetfulness and obsession? What should be the relative weight of this memory compared to other memories of the collective past? If we've made mistakes in how we've memorialized the Holocaust, how can we learn from those mistakes and do better in the future?

On neither side of the Atlantic should discussion of any of these issues be "impermissible." Indeed such discussions are highly desirable. But Finkelstein's rant is not a contribution to such discussions; it is a subtraction from them.

Ce texte a été affiché sur Internet à des fins purement éducatives, pour encourager la recherche, sur une base non-commerciale et pour une utilisation mesurée par le Secrétariat international de l'Association des Anciens Amateurs de Récits de Guerres et d'Holocaustes (AAARGH). L'adresse électronique du Secrétariat est <[email protected]>. L'adresse postale est: PO Box 81475, Chicago, IL 60681-0475, USA.

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ARTICLE 19 <Tout individu a droit à la liberté d'opinion et d'expression, ce qui implique le droit de ne pas être inquiété pour ses opinions et celui de chercher, de recevoir et de répandre, sans considération de frontière, les informations et les idées par quelque moyen d'expression que ce soit>
Déclaration internationale des droits de l'homme, adoptée par l'Assemblée générale de l'ONU à Paris, le 10 décembre 1948.

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